Saddle Mountain’s southeast face offers some of the steeper and varied multi pitch rock climbing in the entire Canadian Rockies. The rock is quartz which is typically more stable than the prevelant limestone in the area, but Saddle Mountain lies among active glaciated peaks and therefore this impressive quartzite wall is young and can be as blocky and chossy as any local limestone. The colors of the wall coupled with the direct view of Mount Temple’s massive north face gives one a sense of remoteness and grandeur. I saw little evidence in 2019 of folks getting on these routes. They are typically quite stout for the grade for the Canadian Rockies and have been left mostly unmolested by the Canmore bolting crowd. The 1.5 hour approach and 1600’ elevation gain keeps the social crag climbers at bay as well (those can be found in abundance down by the lake). This wall offers wild and wooly climbing with good sun exposure, intro trad climbers will not fare well on this steep wall full of surprises.
Toys in the Attic is considered the “classic hard route of the cliff” according to the local guide and I concur. It offers several interesting cruxes featuring exposure and consequences. The first pitch offers the crux move of the route directly above a ledge with suspect rock. A C4#5 would go a long way to make one feel warm and fuzzy in terms of pulling through. The roof pull at the start of the 4th pitch is steep and burly as well right off the belay The guide's recommendation of going left on this roof past the lone piton on the route does not make sense vs pulling straight up via much better gear. Either option will involve stout 5.10 climbing. The rest of the 4th pitch makes it the choice pitch of the route, good corner climbing by Canadian Rockies standards. The descent is easy via the modern (2019) fixed rap down the “nose” of the wall, located just a rope length to climber's right.
Park at the upper Lake Louise parking lot (perhaps the crux of the day). Hike up the shared Saddle and Fairview mountain trail. Stay on "Saddleback" as it switchbacks up the hill almost even with the base of the cliff off to the southwest. Pay attention at the first contact with a large boulder drainage. Cross it towards the cliff via massive cairns (2019) and continue along a climber’s trail as it meanders up and down along steep terrain to the very base of the cliff, traversing mostly even with the bottom of the cliff from when you left the trail. Continue along the base of the cliff until you are dramatically introduced to the massive and steep southeast wall complete with one of the best close up views of Mount Temple’s north face. The slot of the first pitch is easy to identify on Toys. Fourth class up from right to left to below a slab with fractures and cracks that lead to the slot. Belay here.
1st Pitch- 100’-5.10c/ This is one of the more sandbagged pitches in the Canadian Rockies (typically soft compared to California and other western states), and I have climbed over a 1000 rock routes in the Canadian Rockies from the Ghost Wilderness to Jasper. The guide references “originally graded 5.9 but constant upward revisions currently put it at 5.10c or harder!”. The real issue is rock quality or lack thereof vs the actual difficulty of the move to enter the “slot”. You are placing gear between small chockstones and are having to yard on same to pull a significant roof off a ledge. My strategy, outside of really not wanting to do the move, was to place cams on both sides of one of two small chockstones lodged in the base of the crack, so if there was movement on the stone, it would hopefully jam one of the cams to potentially hold a fall. Exposed dynamic moves, no jams, via holds gets you into the slot and then steep climbing continues past a fixed nut (2019) and exits the slot to the right and continues up a relatively easy crack to below a short right facing corner. Belay in the corner on medium gear at a small ledge.
2nd Pitch- 85’-5.10a/ A heady exposed lead. Climb up the short corner to below a chossy roof made up of blocks. Finger rail traverse rightward on suspect rock to the right end where it is easier to pull the final section of the roof above. Comfortable belay ledge at a large block/flake (slung bail rap as of 2019) below the start of the tall left facing corner above with a large block and roof to overcome.
3rd Pitch- 45’-5.9/ This whole route is sandbagged and these next two pitches keep it coming. This pitch is listed as 20m in the local guide but it is even shorter than that. Stem the steep corner past a block (right then back left across the roof block) and do a semi hanging belay below the corner roof at a fixed nut and knotted sling (2019).
4th Pitch- 115’-5.10b/ This pitch is also shorter than the guide references (45m). The guide calls this pitch 5.9 but references you moving out left past a piton (2019) to pull the roof. The topo in the same guide has this move at 5.10b and it is every bit of that and poorly protected above the piton to boot. It is my recommendation that you pull the roof directly (ignore the piton out left) via much better pro. Still a 5.10 move or two no doubt. Then enter the tall corner, offering the best climbing (5.9) and protection on the route. Belay on a comfortable ledge out right via medium gear.
5th-6th Pitches- 210’-5.8/ With a 70m rope, I combined these pitches. Continue up a left facing corner out right with decent gear options. You can traverse edges to a ledge out left below an off-width splitter (C4#5) or continue up thinner cracks and traverse easy edges back left just below the dark shale band. Stem up through the loose shale via 5th class and stop at a ledge and crack still 20’-30’ below the top of the cliff.
There is a modern hardware (2019) four single rope rap located on the “nose” or prow just 200’ to climber’s right. From the last belay, traverse right along the vegetated contoured shale band below the top of the cliff. The nose is obvious and cairned (2019). Once you reach it, scramble down a few meters to a small ledge and your first set of chains. First two raps are on climbers right going down and then one on the prow itself and a final one down climber’s left of the nose to the ground. You can easily walk back to your packs in climbing shoes.
70m rope is best to combine those last two pitches and help with any bail options as this is a remote wall with little to any fixed gear. Single to C4#5. The gear call in the local guide to #4 does not protect the crux move (entry into the slot) or the OW on the 5th pitch. Double from #.3 through #2. Wires and/or micro/offset cams. Alpine slings. As loose as a wall gets, helmets are a must.